Release date: Friday May 28, 2010 Genre: Comedy Director: Michael Patrick King Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures Screenplay: Michael Patrick King Producer(s): John Melfi, Michael Patrick King, Sarah Jessica Parker Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis Official Site:sexandthecitymovie.com Rating:Not Yet Rated Available film art:Sex and the City 2 movie posters
Synopsis In the film, Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda take another bite out of the Big Apple in the sequel to the 2008 summer blockbuster. The original Sex and the City is based on the popular HBO show.
Read what Jim Vejvoda of ign.com has to say about James Cameron’s, “Avatar“. I saw it and I plan on seeing it again. It’s that good. Give yourself a Christmas present and see this one before it leaves the theaters; but see it 3D if at all possible.
The highly anticipated sci-fi epic Avatar centers on Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paralyzed former Marine who is offered an amazing opportunity after his twin brother dies. Recruited by a big faceless corporation (is there ever any other kind in a movie?), Jake travels to the distant world of Pandora, inhabited by the simple, indigenous Na’vi, blue-skinned humanoids who stand 9′ tall and have tails. Pandora is also home to a valuable mineral that could solve all of Earth’s energy problems … if only those pesky natives didn’t live on top of the richest deposits of it.
Since humans can’t breathe Pandora’s atmosphere, the company has created Avatars, in which human pilots use their consciousness to remotely-control a genetically engineered body that is a hybrid of Na’vi and human DNA. Jake’s deceased brother represented a big investment on the part of the Company, but since he shares the same genome as his twin Jake is offered to take his place as an Avatar driver. Gung-ho for action, Jake agrees and then has the pot further sweetened for him by Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), the scar-faced leader of the Company’s private military wing. Quaritch offers Jake a deal: he wants Jake, via his Avatar, to spy on the Na’vi, learn their ways and gain their trust so that he can convince them to “relocate” off their mineral-rich land. In return, Quaritch guarantees the Company will pay for the costly operation to cure Jake’s paralysis. Jake eagerly agrees, but a few months into the job finds himself “going native” after falling for Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), a beautiful and fierce Na’vi who takes Jake into her tribe. Love and a guilty conscience, along with the realization that he has found a place to belong and call home, propels Jake, in his Avatar form, to switch sides and help the Na’vi make a stand against the increasingly violent encroachment of “the sky people.”
Wow. James Cameron pulled it off. I was a big skeptic about Avatar ever since I saw the promotional footage Cameron showed at last summer’s San Diego Comic-Con; the effects, the characters, the hype — none of them were affecting me even though I really wanted them to. I suffered through every Delgo or FernGully or Dances With Wolves joke — and even made a few myself, I’ll admit — and remain shocked that we’re a week away from the movie’s release and no one in the general population seems to be buzzing about the movie let alone fully understands what the hell it’s about. But neither the film’s marketing nor the sizzle reel roadshow that 20th Century Fox and Cameron went on have done Avatar justice. You just have to see it to believe it.
On a technical level, Avatar is a landmark in motion picture history, a film that will be remembered 70 years from now as redefining the boundaries and possibilities of cinema much the way that D.W. Griffith’s films did. It helps audiences take a giant step forward in their suspension of disbelief in what is “real” onscreen, while raising the bar for what mass appeal genre movies can be and achieve. It also validates all the hype and investment in 3-D and motion-capture animation. And if all that sounds too good to be true, then just know that Avatar is a grand, glorious and kick-ass piece of entertainment, an old-fashioned movie gussied up by state of the art filmmaking. Does Cameron cannibalize from his own films here? Sure, you can’t help but think of Aliens (the presence of mech suits and Sigourney Weaver being the most obvious), but to dismiss the film out of hand on that basis would be narrow-minded. After all, every filmmaker poaches from their own work (Scorsese and Tim Burton spring to mind). Cameron simply knows what he does best, and he does all that and more in Avatar.
My apprehension about Avatar dissipated after the first 10 minutes, by which point I knew that I was in great hands. Cameron displays such confidence here that you’d never know it’s been almost 13 years since he’s released a feature film. He has done a Toklien-esque job of creating the world of Pandora, exploring its ecology and zoology and offering an almost anthropological study of the Na’vi. (I know that all sounds very pretentious and maybe even a bit boring to some, but Cameron manages to make it all an organic part of the story as everything on Pandora is connected; the balance of nature there is such that when one part of the environment is damaged or destroyed, everything else is affected by it.) Perhaps even more so than Dances With Wolves, Avatar reminded me of what Malick was attempting to do with The New World — an exploration of nature and a native culture couched in a culture clash/love story where the white hero falls for the chief’s daughter — but done far more effectively and excitingly. (Yes, Avatar is essentially a sci-fi version of the Pocahontas story.)
Still, don’t think that Avatar is some haughty, New Age-y message movie about environmentalism and the horrors and guilt of colonialism. It certainly is about all those things and much more, but it’s ostensibly a Western set in space crossed with an undercover/behind enemy lines story. Indeed, Avatar shows how tough it is to get a Western made in Hollywood these days: you’ve got to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, set it on another planet and shoot it in motion-capture in order to tell the story of the displacement and destruction of Native Americans. (Na’vi, native, get it?) The Na’vi are sort of a cross between the Sioux and the Cherokee. Their war whoops sound like those of Indians in old Westerns (perhaps too much so; even their “horses” sound, well, too much like horses). Quaritch is essentially Andrew Jackson, a tough old soldier driven to “relocate” the natives by any means necessary. “The Company” is the railroad, while “Unobtainium” (a real term) is akin to gold in the Black Hills or oil in Oklahoma.
For a Westerns fan, U.S. history buff, and sci-fi fanboy such as myself, Avatar offered an embarrassment of riches to geek out over. However, Avatar is also just as much a commentary on the state of the world (and imperialism) today as it is the past. Metaphorical nods to America’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan are loud and clear and undeniable. The film’s private military company is essentially Blackwater in space. There’s a scene of cataclysmic destruction that overtly suggests 9/11 and the World Trade Center. The terms “terrorists” and “shock and awe” are used. Yet Cameron never gets too lost in a political argument; he is, after all, a filmaker keenly aware of the need to keep domestic audiences happy if he’s to make commercially successful movies. So by making his tale an escapist fantasy, Cameron has swiped a page from the Red Scare playbook and used genre to cloak the tougher and more critical aspects of his message.
Of course, the film’s themes and subtext wouldn’t matter if we didn’t like the characters. Like District 9′s Wikus van de Merwe, Jake Sully is capable of both kindness and treachery and is out to save himself as much as he is the aliens. Avatar is the make or break Hollywood movie for Aussie actor Sam Worthington, especially after Terminator Salvation flopped, and he acquits himself well, striking a nice balance between callowness, ambition and guilt. As for the rest of the cast, Lang is a revelation as Quaritch; it’s tough to believe that this muscle-bound old soldier is the same actor who played cowardly Ike Clanton in Tombstone and the doughy, sleazy tabloid reporter in Manhunter. Sigourney Weaver brings grace (no pun intended) and wit to her role as cranky but goodhearted scientist Grace Augustine, and the darkly comic Giovanni Ribisi shines as the d-bag suit who represents The Company’s interests on Pandora. Worse than Paul Reiser’s corporate stooge in Aliens, Selfridge is a soulless, bigoted careerist who epitomizes the expression “the banality of evil.”
Saldana, hot off of Star Trek, is solid as Neytiri, but the Na’vi themselves are rather one-dimensional characters. Cameron recycles the stereotypical screen depiction of Native Americans, but sidesteps the thornier aspects of it somewhat by making them aliens. Still, the Na’vi are all types we’ve seen before in Westerns: the noble chief, the warrior princess, the earth mother, the tough brave who is the hero’s rival but ultimately comes to respect him. These archetypes (or stereotypes, if you want) coupled with such a familiar story is the film’s biggest drawback. It could be argued that given the fantastical premise of the film and its strange alien characters, it was probably necessary to employ a more traditional storyline, something relatable for an audience since there were enough other elements that could have possibly lost them. Still, if Avatar sequels happen then it would be nice to see the Na’vi given more depth and dimension as characters.
See proof that you’re not in Kansas anymore.
Books can (and will) be written on Avatar’s visual effects. Cameron and his team have achieved a stunning level of photo-realism in the environment and inhabitants of Pandora and of the mech suits and vessels of the humans. (One thought kept going through my mind during the climactic battle: James Cameron should direct the Halo movie.) He gradually introduces us to the various fantastical elements, allowing us time to let these things become real in our minds. For the most part, the yellow eyes of the Na’vi seem alive and expressive (a first for motion-capture characters, in my opinion), although there are a few times when Jake’s looked “dead” to me. The level of detail in the Na’vis’ skin, and in the vegetation and beasts of Pandora, is astounding. Not since seeing Star Wars as a little kid have I felt so completely and magically transported to such a strange, new world.
This gradual approach has its drawbacks, though, in that it contributes to the film’s bloated running time. This is a real bladder buster of a movie, and I’d be amazed if there were any deleted scenes of importance on the eventual DVD release. For example, the “learning to fly your dragon” sequence goes on far too long, with Cameron using it as a travelogue to show off Pandora — and all the nifty and costly CGI landscapes his team created — rather than to advance the story. That’s just one example, but the film definitely could have been tightened up. The running time and the overall formulaic nature of the story is what keeps me from giving Avatar a higher score.
To say that I was pleasantly surprised by Avatar is an understatement. My advice to you is to forget all that you think you know or believe about Avatar. Just go and experience the world of Pandora and revel in the fact that one of the most entertaining filmmakers of our time is back in action.
Release date: Friday January 29, 2010 Genre: Comedy Director: Mark Steven Johnson Studio: Touchstone Pictures Screenplay: David Diamond, David Weissman Producer(s): Gary Foster, Andrew Panay, Mark Steven Johnson Cast: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Will Arnett, Alexis Dziena, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, Kate Micucci, Bobby Moynihan, Danny DeVito, Anjelica Huston Official Site: go.com/wheninrome Rating:PG-13 for some suggestive content Available film art:When in Rome movie posters
Synopsis Disillusioned with romance during her whirlwind trip to Rome, an ambitious New Yorker defiantly swipes a few magic coins from a “foolish” wishing fountain, inadvertently igniting the passions of a motley crew of suitors as she’s pursued by a handsome reporter with charm to spare. Beth (Kristen Bell) is at a point in her life where love seems like a luxury she just can’t afford. Years of waiting for that perfect romance has made Beth bitter, and one day, while vacationing in Rome, she cynically plucks a handful of coins from a local fountain of love. Almost immediately thereafter, Beth finds herself fending off the advances of a diminutive sausage magnate (Danny DeVito), a lanky street magician (Jon Heder), a doting painter (Will Arnett), and a narcissistic male model (Dax Shepard). Meanwhile, a smitten reporter (Josh Duhamel) does his best to convince Beth that true love isn’t just a topic of fairy tales and romance novels.
Release date: Friday November 20, 2009 (Limited) Genre: Drama Running Time: 109 min. Director: Lee Daniels Studio: Maple Pictures Screenplay: Damien Paul
Producer(s): Gary Magness, Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness Cast: Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe, Mo’Nique , Paula Patton Official Site:weareallprecious.com Rating:R for child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language Tomatometer rating: 91% (Certified Fresh) Available film art: Precious movie posters
Synopsis Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is a high-school girl with nothing working in her favor. She is pregnant with her father’s child—for the second time. She can’t read or write, and her schoolmates tease her for being fat.
Her home life is a horror, ruled by a mother (Mo’Nique) who keeps her imprisoned both emotionally and physically. Precious’s instincts tell her one thing: if she’s ever going to break from the chains of ignorance, she will have to dig deeply into her own resources.
Release date: Dec 16, 2009 Limited Genre: Drama Running Time: 111 min. Director: Scott Cooper Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures Screenplay: Scott Cooper Producer(s): Rob Carliner, Judy Cairo, Robert Duvall, T Bone Burnett Cast: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall, Tom Bower, James Keane, William Marquez, Ryan Bingham, Paul Herman, Rick Dial Official Site:foxsearchlight.com/crazyheart Rating:R for language and brief sexuality Tomatometer rating: 94% (Certified Fresh) Available film art: Crazy Heart movie posters
Synopsis Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is a broken-down, hard-living country music singer who’s had way too many marriages, far too many years on the road and one too many drinks way too many times. And yet, Bad can’t help but reach for salvation with the help of Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a journalist who discovers the real man behind the musician. As he struggles down the road of redemption, Bad learns the hard way just how tough life can be on one man’s crazy heart.
Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Cobb.
Release date: Friday January 15, 2010 Genre: Action/Drama/Sc-Fi Director: Albert and Allen Hughes Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures Screenplay: Gary Whitta Producer(s): Denzel Washington, Joel Silver, Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson Cast: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson Official Site:thebookofelimovie.com Rating:Not Yet Rated Available film art:The Book of Eli movie posters
Synopsis Starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Evan Jones, the film revolves around a lone warrior (Washington) who must fight to bring society the knowledge that could be the key to its redemption. Oldman plays the despot of a small makeshift town who’s determined to take possession of the book Eli’s guarding.
Synopsis: Romantic-comedy regulars Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker finally unite in this fish-out-of-water laugher. The actors play Paul and Meryl Morgan, a Manhattan couple whose marriage is in danger. But it turns out all they may need is a change of scenery: when the Morgans witness a murder and are sent by the government to small-town Wyoming to hide from the killers, their marriage shows signs of recovery. DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? also stars Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen, and Elisabeth Moss.
Cast: Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen, Elisabeth Moss, Michael Kelly; Directed by: Marc Lawrence
Synopsis: The film tells the inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team, Francois Pienaar, to help unite their country. Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match.
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Robert Hobbs; Director: Clint Eastwood
The Princess and the Frog
Synopsis: Walt Disney Animation Studios presents the musical THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, an animated comedy set in the great city of New Orleans. From the creators of “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin” comes a modern twist on a classic tale, featuring a beautiful girl named Tiana (ANIKA NONI ROSE), a frog prince who desperately wants to be human again, and a fateful kiss that leads them both on a hilarious adventure through the mystical bayous of Louisiana.
THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG marks the return to hand-drawn animation from the revered team of John Musker and Ron Clements, with music by Oscar®-winning composer Randy Newman.
Cast: Anika Noni Rose, Oprah Winfrey, Keith David, Jenifer Lewis, John Goodman, Terrence Howard, Jim Cummings; Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker
Synopsis: Though HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN director Alfonso Cuaron still holds the crown for best film in the series, David Yates is making an attempt at a coup with HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE. Dark, gleefully funny, and beautifully shot, this adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s novel should please fans despite numerous changes to the 650-page source material. In this sixth film in the series, Harry’s (Daniel Radcliffe) inevitable confrontation with the dark wizard Voldemort grows closer, and Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) wants the young student to be prepared. He guides Harry through a memory of a young Voldemort, but an important moment is missing. Harry must extract this memory from the new Hogwarts teacher, Horace Slughorn (a perfectly slimy Jim Broadbent), who is as eager for fame as he is reluctant to revisit this painful moment. Meanwhile, romance rules the school of witches and wizards, with Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) refusing to admit their feelings for each other. Harry also harbors a secret love of his own: Ron’s younger sister, Ginny (Bonnie Wright). But despite his crush, Harry keeps an eye on Snape (Alan Rickman) and Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), who may be responsible for attacks on the school. HALF-BLOOD PRINCE deftly balances the humor of Hogwarts heartbreak and the thrills of dark villains attacking the school. The cast is as talented as ever, and the youngest members–Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson–have developed their talent well. However, this film is most remarkable for its fine cinematography from AMELIE director of photography Bruno Delbonnel. Using a muted palette, Delbonnel makes Hogwarts look hauntingly beautiful in a way that fans have never seen. There’s always plenty of fun and adventure in the series, but this entry boasts impressive visuals as well.
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, David Bradley, Jim Broadbent, Jessie Cave, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Frank Dillane, Tom Felton, Michael Gambon, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, Helen McCrory, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Natalia Tena, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Julie Walters, David Thewlis, Bonnie Wright; Directed by: David Yates
Julie and Julia
Synopsis: Meryl Streep is Julia Child and Amy Adams is Julie Powell in writer-director Nora Ephron’s adaptation of two bestselling memoirs: Powell’s Julie & Julia and My Life in France, by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme.
Based on two true stories, Julie & Julia intertwines the lives of two women who, though separated by time and space, are both at loose ends…until they discover that with the right combination of passion, fearlessness and butter, anything is possible.
Cast: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Linda Emond; Directed By: Nora Ephron
Synopsis: Johnny Depp and Christian Bale emerge from two of the biggest blockbuster series of all time (Pirates of the Caribbean and Batman, respectively) to star in this crime drama from HEAT director Michael Mann. Depp stars as charismatic 1930s gangster John Dillinger, whose notorious bank robberies have turned him into a celebrity during the Depression era. The rise in crime has J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) desperate to have his newly created FBI take down gangsters such as Dillinger, “Pretty Boy” Floyd (Channing Tatum), and “Baby Face” Nelson (Stephen Graham). Enter Agent Melvin Purvis (Bale), an ambitious crimefighter sent to Chicago to capture Dillinger and his gang. The criminal has evaded the law before, but he is drawn to the Second City by the beautiful Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard). Though PUBLIC ENEMIES boasts big names, it feels more like an arthouse offering than a typical gangster picture. With its intimately shot violence and 1930s setting, the film is more BONNIE AND CLYDE than GOODFELLAS. Mann and director of photography Dante Spinotti alternate between hand-held, high-quality digital cameras and more traditional film stock, giving this crime drama a carefully composed, thoroughly modern look. But the casting of the leads is vintage Hollywood: Depp could be the modern incarnation of silent star Rudolph Valentino, and Cotillard’s wide-eyed beauty–and talent–would fit right in with the starlets of the golden age. Everyone else, including Bale, fades into the background, but it’s hard to complain when Depp and Cotillard give such magnetic performances.
Cast: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Jason Clarke, Rory Cochran, Billy Crudup, Stephen Dorff, Stephen Lang, John Ortiz, Giovanni Ribisi, David Wenham, John Michael Bolger, Bill Camp, Matt Craven, Emilie De Ravin, Don Frye, Spencer Garrett, Shawn Hatosy, Peter Gerety, Stephen Graham, John Hoogenakker, Branka Katic, Domenick Lombardozzi, David Warshofsky; Directed By: Michael Mann
Synopsis: When a decorated Marine goes missing overseas, his black-sheep younger brother cares for his wife and children at home—with consequences that will shake the foundation of the entire family. … When a decorated Marine goes missing overseas, his black-sheep younger brother cares for his wife and children at home—with consequences that will shake the foundation of the entire family.
BROTHERS tells the powerful story of two siblings, thirtysomething Captain Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) and younger brother Tommy Cahill (Jake Gyllenhaal), who are polar opposites. A Marine about to embark on his fourth tour of duty, Sam is a steadfast family man married to his high school sweetheart, the aptly named Grace (Natalie Portman), with whom he has two young daughters (Bailee Madison, Taylor Grace Geare). Tommy, his charismatic younger brother, is a drifter just out of jail who’s always gotten by on wit and charm. He slides easily into his role as family provocateur on his first night out of prison, at Sam’s farewell dinner with their parents, Elsie (Mare Winningham) and Hank Cahill (Sam Shepard), a retired Marine.
Shipped out to Afghanistan, Sam is presumed dead when his Black Hawk helicopter is shot down in the mountains. At home in suburbia, the Cahill family suddenly faces a shocking void, and Tommy tries to fill in for his brother by assuming newfound responsibility for himself, Grace, and the children.
But Sam is not dead; he and a fellow soldier have been captured by Taliban fighters. In Afghanistan’s harsh, remote Pamir Mountains, Sam is subjected to traumas that threaten to rob him of his very humanity. At the same time that Sam’s sense of self is being destroyed overseas, Tommy’s self-image is strengthening at home. And in the grief and strangeness of their new lives, Grace and Tommy are naturally drawn together. Their longstanding frostiness dissolves, but both are frightened and ashamed of the mutual attraction that has replaced it.
When Sam unexpectedly returns to the States, a nervous mood settles over the family. Sam, uncharacteristically withdrawn and volatile, grows suspicious of his brother and his wife. Their familiar roles now nearly reversed, Sam and Tommy end up facing the ultimate physical and mental challenge when they confront each other. In the shifting family dynamics, who will dominate? And how will the brothers come to terms with issues of love, loyalty, and manhood—and with the woman caught between them?
Lionsgate and Relativity Media proudly present the riveting family drama BROTHERS, directed by six-time Oscar® nominee Jim Sheridan (IN AMERICA, IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER), from a screenplay by David Benioff (THE KITE RUNNER, STAY, TROY), and starring Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sam Shepard, Mare Winningham, Bailee Madison, and Taylor Grace Geare. The producers are Ryan Kavanaugh, Joni Sighvatsson, and Michael De Luca. Executive producers are Tucker Tooley and Zach Schiff-Abrams, with co-executive producer Jeremiah Samuels. BROTHERS is based on the Danish film BRØDRE by Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen.
Cast: Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sam Shepard, Mare Winningham, Bailee Madison, Taylor Grace Geare; Directed by: Jim Sheridan
Up in the Air
Synopsis: After getting Oscar attention for JUNO, director Jason Reitman turns to this adaptation of Walter Kirn’s comic novel. Academy Award-winner George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham, a businessman on the verge of reaching five million frequent flyer miles when his company decides to cut back on travel. But his goal isn’t the only thing just out of reach: he now won’t be able to see a fellow frequent traveler (THE DEPARTED’s Vera Farmiga) who has caught his eye.
Cast: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Tamala Jones, Chris Lowell; Directed by: Jason Reitman
Sandra Bullock takes on the role of a privileged Southern matriarch who takes in a failing football prospect and finds her life is transformed by sport and charity. Based on the real life story of Baltimore Raven Michael Oher, “The Blind Side” is pure Hollywood hokum — but there’s plenty of beauty in the details.
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron
I guess you’re not really a big star in Hollywood until you’ve played a character with big hair. So give yourself a slap on the back Sandra Bullock: You’ve gone toe-to-pedicured-toe with the drawling ghosts of outspoken Southern belles and held your own as Leigh Anne Tuohy — a Memphis housewife and home designer who took a kid from the streets and turned him into an NFL hopeful.
So stand back Julia Roberts and hang on to your hoop skirt Vivien Leigh. Bullock is strolling down a very storied lane in this new movie from John Lee Hancock (The Rookie), and with a little help from some well-placed bling and designer jeans, she recreates the unique blend of Southern femme fatale and matriarch that’s defined some of the best screen heroines of all time.
Based on Michael Lewis’ book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, this ambitiously upbeat fairy tale formula tells the story of Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a kid who grew up in the bad part of town as a ward of the state.
When we first meet him, he’s on the verge of being accepted to a fancy private Catholic school for one reason, and one reason only: He’s huge, and the football coach wants a big guy to be the wall around his quarterback; he needs to be protected on the “blind side.”
Oher is the ideal candidate because he’s not just big, he’s quick, and the position of left tackle demands both.
The only problem is Oher doesn’t possess the academic skills for acceptance. Passed on without ever proving himself to any scholastic standard, the kid is perceived as a moron by most of the faculty.
Sooner than later, however, Michael finds a champion in Leigh Anne (Bullock), a society gal who decides to take him into her home.
It’s a big moment that proves life-changing for everyone involved, but there’s a sweet understatement to the scene as Hancock leaves it to Bullock to carry with a single comic glance.
One minute the character of Leigh Anne Tuohy is just another faux blond eating overpriced salads with her Botox-plumped peers. The next, she’s an accidental activist taking on a hundred years of racial history to discover true Christian charity.
In real life, watershed moments don’t come with musical scores. Half the time, we aren’t even aware a transformative instant is upon us. Life just happens in those split-second gut decisions, and from there, we face the consequences — be they fabulous or frightful.
For Leigh Anne, the impulse to take Michael in is expressed as a moment of “Mama-knows-best” behaviour. As the undisputed queen of her beehive, Leigh Anne is apparently quite adept at manipulating everyone in her family to go along with her inspired plans.
She’s got an opinion about just about everything, and because she’s so darned cute — with her expensively streaked hair and Pilates-trained tummy — she can swish in all the right spots to get her way.
Apparently, we just can’t get enough of this bossy Southern belle character. Maybe it’s because Southern women find the right balance between bosomy availability and kick-in-the-pants toughness.
Whatever the reason, a sassy broad with a mind of her own, and a great sense of humour, goes a long way in the world of genre filmmaking because they create tension with their unpredictable presence and power of self-possession.
Bullock finds all the larger than life dimensions to her character, but it’s in the smaller cracks that she makes the most of her performance and shows us the true face of transformation as it happens from the inside out.
At one point, she realizes Michael never had a bed of his own, and you can see her entire world-view disintegrate in her hands.
Bullock brings the same edge of gravitas to the scene as she did in Crash, showing us a woman emerging from the cocoon of privilege.
The film revels in the halfway point of her character’s change before finally unveiling the full metamorphosis, and that was a good strategy because the actual dilemmas in this movie are rather small — and pragmatically benign.
The real drama comes dressed in the details of everyday life and the infinite number of choices we make daily. With outstanding help from the supporting cast — most notably a clean-shaven Tim McGraw as Mr. Tuohy and Quentin Aaron as Oher — Bullock and director Hancock stretch the skin of cliche over an old drum and give it a memorable thump.